The New York City area may be safely evacuated in the event of a Fukushima-like disaster at the Indian Point nuclear plant because a crisis would unfold slowly, the top U.S. nuclear regulator said.
“Nuclear accidents do develop slowly, they do develop over time, and we saw that at Fukushima,” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, 41, said in an interview today at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. It’s unlikely a nuclear accident would require prompt action beyond “more than a few miles,” where the highest radiation levels would be, he said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point plant, about 24 miles (39 kilometers) north of the most populated U.S. city, should be closed because it isn’t feasible to evacuate about 20 million residents of the metropolitan area in the event of an accident.
Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman, declined to respond to Jaczko’s comments. “The governor’s position is clear,” Vlasto said today in an interview in Albany. “He wants to shut it down.”
Jaczko’s commission initially recommended that U.S. citizens living with 50 miles of the Fukushima plant evacuate following a March earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns and radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. The U.S. agency requires reactor owners to plan for emergencies involving radiation exposure within 10 miles of nuclear plants.
The commission is weighing new requirements for owners of the 104 U.S. operating reactors following Fukushima. Jaczko wants all rules developed after an agency task-force review of the disaster to be implemented within five years.
Indian Point has two reactors with operating licenses that expire in 2013 and 2015, and Entergy is seeking 20-year extensions. Cuomo is opposed to renewing the licenses.
Jaczko said he hasn’t examined evacuation plans for New York specifically. Evacuation plans aren’t considered during license renewals and are the responsibility of state and local authorities, who would work with plant owners in the event of an emergency, he said.
Jaczko, a former science adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was appointed to the commission by President George W. Bush in 2005 and elevated to chairman by President Barack Obama in 2009. His term runs through 2013.
Southern Co., Scana
The agency’s review of Fukushima won’t delay decisions on issuing licenses to build new U.S. reactors, Jaczko said. The commission may issue “within a month or two” the first licenses in more than 30 years to build reactors, he said. It must first give final approval to Toshiba Corp.’s design for the AP1000 reactor model.
Southern Co., based in Atlanta, is seeking permission to add two new AP1000 reactors at its Vogtle plant near Augusta, Georgia, a project estimated to cost $14 billion.
Scana Corp. plans to build two reactors at its Virgil C. Summer site about 26 miles northwest of Columbia, South Carolina. The new reactors at both plants may begin operating by 2016, the companies have said.
It would be possible to “condition the licenses” so that new safety features aimed at protecting the plants from earthquakes could be incorporated as they are built, Jaczko said.
“That would leave plenty of time during construction to make the modifications,” Jaczko said. “There’s a way to do it that wouldn’t necessarily have any impact on delays.”
The agency hasn’t issued a construction license for a new U.S. nuclear plant since a partial meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979.